Entertainment is something that holds the attention and interest of an audience, or gives pleasure and delight. It can be an idea or a task, but is more likely to be one of the activities or events that have developed over thousands of years specifically for the purpose of keeping an audience’s attention. Although people’s attention is held by different things, because individuals have different preferences in entertainment, most forms are recognisable and familiar. Storytelling, music, drama, dance, and different kinds of performance exist in all cultures, were supported in royal courts, developed into sophisticated forms and over time became available to all citizens.
The process has been accelerated in modern times by an entertainment industry which records and sells entertainment products. Entertainment evolves and can be adapted to suit any scale, ranging from an individual who chooses a private entertainment from a now enormous array of pre-recorded products; to a banquet adapted for two; to any size or type of party, with appropriate music and dance; to performances intended for thousands; and even for a global audience.
The experience of being entertained has come to be strongly associated with amusement, so that one common understanding of the idea is fun and laughter, although many entertainments have a serious purpose. This may be the case in the various forms of ceremony, celebration, religious festival, or satire for example. Hence, there is the possibility that what appears as entertainment may also be a means of achieving insight or intellectual growth. An important aspect of entertainment is the audience, which turns a private recreation or leisure activity into entertainment. The audience may have a passive role, as in the case of persons watching a play, opera, television show, or film; or the audience role may be active, as in the case of games, where the participant/audience roles may be routinely reversed. Entertainment can be public or private, involving formal, scripted performance, as in the case of theatre or concerts; or unscripted and spontaneous, as in the case of children’s games.
Most forms of entertainment have persisted over many centuries, evolving as a result of changes in culture, technology, and fashion. Films and video games, for example, although they use newer media, continue to tell stories, present drama, and play music. Festivals devoted to music, film, or dance allow audiences to be entertained over a number of consecutive days. Some activities that once were considered entertaining, particularly public punishments, have been removed from the public arena.
Others, such as fencing or archery, once necessary skills for some, have become serious sports and even professions for the participants, at the same time developing into entertainment with wider appeal for bigger audiences. In the same way, other necessary skills, such as cooking, have developed into performances among professionals, staged as global competitions and then broadcast for entertainment. What is entertainment for one group or individual may be regarded as work by another. The familiar forms of entertainment have the capacity to cross over different media and have demonstrated a seemingly unlimited potential for creative remix. This has ensured the continuity and longevity of many themes, images, and structures.
Ever since people started entertaining themselves by telling stories around a fire in prehistoric times, storytelling has been an important part of most forms of entertainment. Stories are still told in this original form, for example while camping, or when listening to the stories of another culture as a tourist. Many entertainments, including storytelling but especially music and drama, remain familiar but have developed into a wide variety of form to suit a very wide range of personal preferences and cultural expression. Many types are blended or supported by other forms. For example, drama, stories and banqueting (or dining) are commonly enhanced by music; sport andgames are incorporated into other activities to increase appeal. Some may have evolved from serious or necessary activities (such asrunning and jumping) into competition and then become entertainment. Gladiatorial combats, also known as “gladiatorial games”, popular during Roman times, provide a good example of an activity that is a combination of sport, punishment, and entertainment. Many of these once perhaps necessary skills, such as pole vaulting, need equipment, which has become increasingly sophisticated. Other activities, such as walking on stilts, are still seen in circus performances in the 21st century.
Changes to what is regarded as entertainment can occur in response to cultural or historical shifts. Hunting wild animals, for example, was introduced into the Roman Empire from Carthage. As a form of public entertainment and spectacle, it is one of the types of entertainment that fell out of favour and was eventually prohibited. Hunting wild animals is still regarded by some as entertainment but as with other forms of animal entertainment it remains controversial. Entertainment evolved into different forms and expressions as a result of social upheavals such as wars and revolutions. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, for example, Revolutionary opera was sanctioned by the Communist party and World War I, the Great Depression and the Russian revolution all had an impact on entertainment.
Relatively minor changes to the form and venue of an entertainment continue to come and go as they are affected by the period, fashion, culture, technology, and economics. For example, a story told in dramatic form can be presented in an open-air theatre, a music hall, amovie theatre, a multiplex, or as technological possibilities advanced, via a personal electronic device such as a tablet computer. Entertainment is provided for mass audiences in purpose-built structures such as a theatre, auditorium, or stadium. One of the most famous venues in the Western world is the Colosseum where spectacles, competitions, races, and sports were once presented as public entertainment. New stadia continue to be built to suit the ever more sophisticated requirements of global audiences.
Ticket to the hanging ofJonathan Wild (1725)
Although most forms of entertainment have evolved and continued over time, some once-popular forms are no longer as acceptable. For example, during earlier centuries in Europe, watching or participating in the punishment of criminals or social outcasts was an accepted and popular form of entertainment. Many forms of public humiliation also offered local entertainment in the past. Even capital punishment such as hanging andbeheading, offered to the public as a warning, were also regarded partly as entertainment. Capital punishments that lasted longer, such as stoningand drawing and quartering, afforded a greater public spectacle.
“A hanging was a carnival that diverted not merely the unemployed but the unemployable. Good bourgeois or curious aristocrats who could afford it watched it from a carriage or rented a room.” Public punishment as entertainment lasted until the 19th century by which time “the awesome event of a public hanging aroused the[ir] loathing of writers and philosophers”. Both Dickens and Thackeray wrote about a hanging in Newgate Prison in 1840, and “taught an even wider public that executions are obscene entertainments”. ————————————————-
Pieter Bruegel Children’s Games (1560)
Children’s entertainment is centred on play and is significant for their growth and learning. Entertainment is also provided to children or taught to them by adults and many activities that appeal to them such as puppets, clowns, pantomimes and cartoons are also enjoyed by adults. Children have always played games. It is accepted that as well as being entertaining, playing games helps children’s development. One of the most famous visual accounts of children’s games is a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder called Children’s Games, painted in 1560. It depicts children playing a range of games which were presumably typical of the time. Many of these games, such as marbles, hide-and-seek, blowing soap bubbles and piggyback riding continue to be played.
Example of a rating system specifying age appropriateness (Israel) Most forms of entertainment can be or are modified to suit children’s needs and interests. During the 20th century, it became understood that the psychological development of children occurs in stages and that their capacities differ from adults. Hence, stories and activities, whether in books, film, or video games were developed specifically for child audiences.
Countries have responded to the special needs of children and the rise of digital entertainment by developing systems such astelevision content rating systems, to guide the public and the entertainment industry. In the 21st century, as with adult products, much entertainment is available for children on the internet for private use. This constitutes a significant change from earlier times. The amount of time expended by children indoors on screen-based entertainment and the “remarkable collapse of children’s engagement with nature” has drawn criticism for its negative effects on imagination, adult cognition and psychological well-being
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